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Cuba wins regional support at CELAC summit in Santiago.

Cuban President Raul Castro has taken over the rotating presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish) --an organization founded in December 2011 at the urging of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Raul praised the ailing Chavez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in a Havana hospital, at the CELAC meeting in Santiago, Chile. Speaking Jan. 28, he hailed the 33-member bloc as "a common vision of the larger Latin American and Caribbean homeland and its people."

CELAC is a counterweight to the economic and political power of the United States, which has frozen Cuba out of other summits.

According to an AP report, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said it was refreshing to meet European presidents and prime ministers on equal terms "without the boss from the north" at the table.

At the summit, Venezuela's vice-president, Nicolas Maduro, read a lengthy typewritten letter signed by Chavez, in which the 58-year-old leader asks CELAC member states to remain unified and fight economic imperialism.

"We have to live with our differences ... always trying to find the best way of complementing each other. We cannot let intrigues divide us," said the letter. "After 30 years of resisting this criminal imperial blockade, Latin America and the Caribbean is using a single voice to tell the United States: All your attempts to isolate Cuba are failing."

But Raul Castro's visit was not well-received by the Chilean right. On Jan. 25, the Union Democrata Independiente (UDI) party published a statement in Chilean newspapers expressing its opposition to the Cuban government and calling Raul "one of the major dictators of the Western world."


That was not all. UDI President Patricio Melero had tried unsuccessfully to deliver a letter to the Cuban Embassy in Santiago to get the Castro regime to turn over information on former members of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR).

That group was a disbanded far-left organization involved in the April 1991 killing of Chilean senator Jaime Guzman, a well-known lawyer, founder of the UDI and political strategist for the Pinochet dictatorship.

But a sign posted at the building's entrance said the embassy was closed to the public.

"Once again they are refusing to accept democratic expressions, once again the Cuban government does not want to accept that democracy and courts of justice can take action," said Melero, who was joined by a group of UDI party members --all of them opposed to the presidential visit.

Melero and other party leaders insist that FMPR leader Juan Gutierrez Fischmann --who is nicknamed "El Chele" and who's married to Raul Castro's daughter --is one of the masterminds of the Guzman assassination.

According to them, this information was kept secret until April 1996. A judicial investigation determined that two FPMR militants, Ricardo Palma Salamanca and Raul Escobar Poblete, took part in the killing.

The investigation also found that Galvarino Apablaza, Mauricio Hernandez Norambuena and Juan Gutierrez Fischmann organized the attack. UDI party members say most of these men currently reside in Cuba.

The Chilean government supports UDI's demands. At a press conference shortly before Raul Castro's arrival, President Sebastian Pinera warned that "we want that all crimes, especially one as grave as the assassination of a senator, to be acknowledged and judged by our courts and those responsible to face the consequences of their actions."

In a letter from the UDI, which Pinera said he'd deliver to Raul, party leaders said "almost 22 years after the assassination of Jaime Guzman, due to either inertia or deliberation, no one has been sentenced for this act."

The letter concluded: "It is not possible that the murderers of a senator of our country continue to be sheltered. In keeping with our code which rejects all forms of violence, we recur to reason. Because of this we are asking for truth and justice."

Pinera finally met with Raul for 50 minutes. During the encounter, the Chilean president was supposed to have asked his Cuban counterpart to expedite the extradition of those implicated in the Guzman assassination. UDI leader Melero later said the Chilean government "had done its duty."

Odette Magnet, former press attache at Chile's embassies in Washington and London, is a free-lance journalist and writer now living in Santiago.
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Title Annotation:Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
Author:Magnet, Odette
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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